|"Functional visualizations are more than innovative statistical analyses and computational algorithms. They must make sense to the user and require a visual language system that uses colour, shape, line, hierarchy and composition to communicate clearly and appropriately, much like the alphabetic and character-based languages used worldwide between humans."
Digital Information Graphics
VisualComplexity.com intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project's main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web. I truly hope this space can inspire, motivate and enlighten any person doing research on this field.
Not all projects shown here are genuine complex networks, in the sense that they aren’t necessarily at the edge of chaos, or show an irregular and systematic degree of connectivity. However, the projects that apparently skip this class were chosen for two important reasons. They either provide advancement in terms of visual depiction techniques/methods or show conceptual uniqueness and originality in the choice of a subject. Nevertheless, all projects have one trait in common: the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.
How it started
The idea for this endeavor started on my second year MFA program at Parsons School of Design. During this period I conducted extensive research on the visualization of complex networks, which culminated with my thesis project Blogviz: Mapping the dynamics of information diffusion in Blogspace. One thing I found while exploring this area was the lack of an integrated and extensive resource on this subject. This is the main reason why this project came to life.
Later on, as a teaching assistant of Information Architecture at Parsons Design+Technology program, together with Christopher Kirwan, I was able to consolidate most of this research as part of an independent study. The key chunk of projects shown here was gathered during this phase. My ultimate goal is to keep adding new projects to a still undetermined limit. VisualComplexity.com was launched in October, 2005.
Complexity is a challenge by itself. Complex Networks are everywhere. It is a structural and organizational principle that reaches almost every field we can think of, from genes to power systems, from food webs to market shares. Paraphrasing Albert Barabasi, one of the leading researchers in this area, “the mystery of life begins with the intricate web of interactions, integrating the millions of molecules within each organism”. Humans, since their birth, experience the effect of networks every day, from large complex systems like transportation routes and communication networks, to less conscious interactions, common in social networks.
Scale-Free networks, one of the most common topology in either natural or human systems, is curiously enough, a very recent breakthrough. Since its discovery, in 1999, dozens of researchers worldwide have been disentangling the networks around us at an amazing rate. This awareness is helping us understand not only the world around us but also the most intricate web of interactions that shape the human body. The global effort of constructing a general theory of complexity is tremendous and may lead us, not only to a structural understanding of networks, but to major improvements in stability, robustness and security of most complex systems around the globe. Like Barabasi refers in Linked, “Once we stumble across the right vision of complexity, it will take little to bring it to fruition. When that will happen is one of the mysteries that keeps many of us going”.
About the author
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, nominated by Creativity magazine as "one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009", Manuel Lima is a Senior UX Design Lead at Microsoft Bing and founder of VisualComplexity.com - A visual exploration on mapping complex networks.
Prior to joining Microsoft, Manuel worked as a Senior User Experience Designer at Nokia and Senior Interaction Designer at the leading digital agency R/GA. He holds a BFA in Industrial Design and a MFA in Design & Technology from Parsons School of Design, New York. During the course of the MFA program, Manuel worked for Siemens Corporate Research Center, the American Museum of Moving Image and Parsons Institute for Information Mapping in research projects for the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency.
Manuel is a leading voice on information visualization and a frequent speaker in conferences and schools around the world, including TED, Lift, OFFF, Reboot, VizThink, IxDA Interaction, Royal College of Art, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, ENSAD Paris, University of Amsterdam, MediaLab Prado Madrid. For a complete list of talks, click here.